MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Agriculture (DA) has inked a memorandum of agreement with Pampanga State Agricultural University (PSAU) over the weekend that aims to fast-track the detection and treatment of animal diseases in livestock, poultry, and fish.
The project, “DNA Analysis for Accurate Diagnosis of Emerging Deadly Viruses among Agri-fisheries of Central Luzon,” hopes to provide information to drug manufacturing industries that would enable them to build custom design vaccines that specifically target viral strains present in Central Luzon – known as a production hub for livestock and poultry.
“The launch of this project is both timely and relevant, as it marks a new milestone in our efforts to boost our capacity to accurately detect and effectively manage emerging animal disease, including that of transboundary diseases here in Central Luzon and nearby regions,” Agriculture Secretary William Dar said.
He added the need for the industry to re-assess the availability and capacities of the country’s existing animal disease diagnostics research facilities, stressing the importance of research to combat potential pandemics that may come from zoonotic animal diseases like the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The agency already allocated P6.4 million to fund the program, which would come from the coffers of its research arm, the Bureau of Agricultural Research.
Using reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction or RT-PCR – similar to the method used to detect COVID-19 – and DNA sequencing, the project would determine the true-to-type species or genotypes on the causative agent of emerging deadly viruses.
This, in turn, would allow researchers to analyze transmissions, including the occurrence, reduction, and severity of the viruses.
Diseases that would be covered by the project are the African swine fever (ASF), New Castle Disease, avian flu, tilapia lake virus, and white spot syndrome virus.
Without an available vaccine to prevent the spread of ASF and bird flu, the agency resort to the massive culling of livestock and poultry within the virus’ ground zero. This measure results in billions of losses for both industries and also forces the government to cough up additional funds to compensate those who are affected.
The DA’s decision to fund research and development efforts, however, has earned the ire of Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food.
Last year, the lawmaker questioned the agency’s “obsession” with research, and asked officials to revise its budget proposal that would cut research funding to be appropriated to the distribution of seeds, fertilizers, and machinery.
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